Liverpool heads into yet another international break fresh off an much needed home win over West Bromwich Albion. With the exception of the 3-0 win against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, the Reds have yet to rediscover the form that propelled them to second place in the league last season. However, several factors should see Liverpool move quickly back up the table and provide some comfort to fans disappointed with the first seven weeks of the season.
Return of Daniel Sturridge
Unquestionably the return to full fitness of Daniel Sturridge will provide a huge boost to a Liverpool squad that has struggled to put away chances in the early stages of this season. Ecouraged by a new mega contract, Daniel will be anxious to continue the wonderful start he’s had at Anfield. While his 36 goals in 52 appearances is eye catching, more appealing is the fact Liverpool has only lost three league games with Sturridge in the starting lineup since he joined in January, 2013.
A healthy Daniel Sturridge also allows Liverpool to move back into the diamond formation which brought success, not to mention an entertaining brand of football to Anfield, last season. Pairing up front with Mario Balotelli could also help the Italian rediscover his form as his recent disappointing performances can at least partially be to blame on the fact he has had to play the role of a lone striker, one which obviously does not suit his game.
Easier Fixtures in the League
A trip to Loftus Road to play bottom of the table Queens Park Rangers awaits the Reds after the international break. Next, a return trip to Anfield against Hull City, who have only won once in their last six league games. Finally, it’s off to St. James’ Park to play crisis club Newcastle United who currently reside in 18th place. While no win is guaranteed in the Premier League, these next three league fixtures involve two games against teams currently occupying spots in the bottom three and anything less than nine points will be somewhat of a disappointment.
Complicating what should be the start of a Reds’ winning streak is of course the blockbuster home tie against Real Madrid. This was the match all Liverpool fans dreamt about when the draw was made in August, but it will be important to re-focus no matter the result against the Los Blancos as three home points against a mid table Hull City squad a few days later will be necessary to keep pace with the top four. What should be a shuffled Liverpool squad will also play another mid-week match the following Tuesday against Swansea City in the League Cup.
Improved Defensive Performances
While it might appear little progress has been made since sloppy defensive errors cost the Reds the title last season, a closer look will show Liverpool has been unlucky not to record shutouts in their last two league outings. A nearly unstoppable screamer from Phil Jagielka in the Merseyside Derby and a wrongly called penalty last week against West Bromwich Albion are all that stands between Liverpool and back to back shutouts in the league for the first time since March. A successful partnership appears to be blooming between Martin Skrtel and Dejan Lovren, while Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo have provided adequate defensive coverage on the wings during the last couple league outings.
A shut out or two should be on the horizon as upcoming opponents Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle are averaging less than one goal per game combined. The real test however will come when Cristiano Ronaldo and the high powered Real Madrid attack come to Anfield for a Champions League group stage match, followed by a return trip to the Bernabeu a couple weeks later.
Slow Starts by Other Top Four Contenders
A slow start to the season has many Liverpool fans disappointed, but the situation is not much better for the other clubs competing for the EPL’s Champions League places. When comparing results against the corresponding fixtures from last season, Liverpool are only three points off the blistering pace that shot them to second in the league in the previous campaign, as are fellow Champions League participants Arsenal. However, Manchester United and Everton have earned seven and five fewer points respectively than they did in the same fixtures during the 2013/2014 season. Tottenham find themselves a point ahead, but must increase their pace as they finished a full 10 points behind fourth place last season. This goes to show there is no need for Liverpool fans to panic, however the Reds did miss a golden opportunity to put some space between themselves and their league rivals.
Getting Back on Track
International breaks have not been kind to Liverpool recently. Crucial injuries to Daniel Sturridge, Joe Allen and Emre Can cost Liverpool their leading goal getter along with two players critical to the depth needed to compete on multiple fronts this season for a substantial stretch of games. On top of injuries, Liverpool have struggled for form when returning from international breaks having dropped points in four of their last five first games back.
As this new look Liverpool squad continues to gel, it will be crucial to have the full squad playing together as much as possible. While injuries will continue to crop up from time to time, Brendan Rodgers will need to show flexibility in picking his squad and formations to suit both player availability and the opposition. With winnable games coming up in the league and two show downs with Real Madrid looming, Rodgers and the Reds will be hopeful of getting their season back on track heading into November.